Setting paver steps into a hillside is one way to turn a slope into a usable walkway that is both attractive and convenient. Stone or brick pavers require no mortar when properly set, so the labor required to install them is considerably less than pouring concrete. That is not to say there is no labor involved, because there is, but the bulk of it consists of digging out level terraces for the pavers. Once that is complete, though, there is no mixing or pouring required. Depending on the height of the hillside and the width of the walkway, this could take a couple of days or more. Given fair weather and a motivated homeowner, it could happen on a weekend.
Determine the Path
After your materials are purchased and waiting to be installed, the first thing to do is determine what course the walkway will take up the hillside. It could be straight up or it could curve. That depends on your sensibilities and any landscaping you may have to work your way around. Once determined, set stakes at either end of where the pavers will go all the way up the hill. If it is simply straight up, two stakes on either side will do. String a line between them to give yourself a marker. If the path curves, set stakes every few feet and wind the string around each as you go up to set the markers.
Dig out the Terraces
The next step to be completed once the walkway is marked is to dig out the terraces. This will take the most time and require some planning. You’re going to place a length of pressure-treated 1x6 cedar as a riser between each row of pavers. It will sit in the ground about half an inch, leaving about five inches exposed.
As you dig the terraces, stay between the markers, and make each rising span no greater than five inches. Make the horizontal area where the pavers will go, the tread, about between 12 and 16 inches wide depending on the size of the pavers. The rise and the tread, coupled with the height of the hillside, will determine how many steps you’ll make. As you go, use the level to ensure the tread is flat, and be sure to add a couple of inches both lengthwise and widthwise to give the pavers room to settle in the gravel.
Cut and Set the Risers
Measure the dug-out distance of each step. Make a mark of equal length on the cedar and cut it with the circular saw. Set the first riser in place between the edges of the path. Using your rubber mallet, pound it evenly down into the soil until about one inch sticks up from the level of the tread, immediately above it. Measure each riser individually, making the necessary cut and setting.
Pavers and Gravel
After all of the cedar risers are set, pour in pea gravel between each riser on the treads. Fill the space to just below the top of the planks and level it out.
Once the gravel is in place, begin placing the pavers in the tread area. The span should be wide enough to hold pavers of a specific size. For instance, 1x1 foot pavers will fit three side by side in a space 13 inches by 38 inches, which includes some wiggle room. Set the pavers in the gravel until they do not move. You can lightly tap on them with the rubber mallet to set them in further.
With the pavers set in the gravel, you now have an attractive walkway up a hillside. Double-check your work and make sure the cedar risers are secure in the dirt. Pressing the pavers up against them may help to keep them in place as well.